This was the 15th year I attended the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention (NAB) since I first visited the video industry’s biggest annual expo as a college senior in 1992. It has always been a fascinating educational experience. Exhibits range in size from tens of thousands of square feet to as little as 30 square feet. Size doesn’t matter at NAB, though. A booth that consists of a folding table and a few demos could return next year as one of the big ones if the product it highlights this year hits paydirt. While this year’s show didn’t have as many wows as last year’s, there were a number of new products and technologies unveiled that will certainly have an impact on the event videography market in the coming year and beyond.
Before I get on to this year’s list, I’ll just mention one strong trend I saw at the show this year. People have been talking about the death of tape for a couple years. In Panasonic’s booth, they were leading the tapeless parade with P2 and AVCHD cameras and "decks" based on "solid-state" flash media-based acquisition technology. Sony, which has been delivering its own brand of tapeless acquisition in its high-end cameras for several years, using blue laser-based PDD optical media, showed its first flash-based camera, the $8,000 CineAlta XDCAM EX. But realizing that solid-state media is cost-prohibitive for many producers (though, significantly, Sony says its flash acquisition media will debut with enough capacity to record two full hours of HD video while P2 languishes in the sub-30-minute range), Sony also previewed a full-size (think DSR 250) HDV camcorder. More about that later.
Without further ado, here are my top products of NAB 2007, in no particular order, with no ranking implied.
Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium ($1,699)
The biggest news about Adobe’s latest video suite, which succeeds 2005’s Video Collection and 2006’s Production Studio, is that it is available for Intel Macs in addition to Windows. Taking the suite’s vaunted integration features to a new level, projects done on Windows can be transferred to Macs running CS3 Production Premium and vice-versa. Production Premium includes After Effects CS3 Professional, Premiere Pro 3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Flash CS3 Professional, Soundbooth CS3, Illustrator CS3, Flash CS3 Professional, Encore CS3, OnLocation CS3 (formerly known as DV Rack), and Ultra CS3. Encore, also now available as a component of Premiere Pro when purchased outside the Production Premium suite, now supports authoring and burning of Blu-ray Discs and outputting fully authored DVDs as Flash. Because the latest version of DVD Studio Pro included in Apple Final Cut Studio 2 (see below) hasn’t been upgraded for Blu-ray support, this makes Encore CS3 your only professional option for authoring Blu-ray Discs on the Mac. There are significant upgrades to After Effects for doing 3D work. Photoshop CS3 Extended is a special version for video editors that allows you to import video directly. OnLocation CS3 is now included in Premiere Pro and allows sophisticated monitoring and evaluation of video signals (see Lee Rickwood’s review), and Ultra CS3 provides chromakey and virtual set capability. Soundbooth replaces Audition with a simpler, more task-based application designed for video rather than audio editors. There is so much here to talk about that I can’t possibly do justice to the product in so short a space. An aside from Matrox: The RT.X100 will not support CS3. It may be time to look at that RT.X2 (see Chris and Laura Randall’s review). The individual programs are available separately but the bundle works out to be much less expensive even if you don’t use everything.
Digital Anarchy ToonIt! ($299)
ToonIt! is a set of plugins for Adobe After Effects (6.5+) and Apple Final Cut Pro (5.0+) that turns regular footage into "cartoons." It is a popular effect in commercials today. ToonIt! makes it easy and gives you a lot of control over how cartoonish your finished product looks. There are lots of creative possibilities with ToonIt! in your arsenal.
NewTek 3D Arsenal
As someone who started editing on the original Commodore-based Video Toaster, I found that I was one of the guys who, after taking a shot at LightWave 3D, decided I was not an animator. I produced one simple animation in eight years of using Video Toaster. LightWave 3D is a 3D- animation tool designed for professional animators, and if you’re not one, you probably won’t get much farther with it than I did. 3D Arsenal, by contrast, is designed with video editors in mind. Its 750 easily customizable templates enable NLE users to make 3D logos and animations without requiring a physics degree. 3D Arsenal lists for $495. Additional "ammo packs" with specialties such as "Weddings & Events" are available for $150.
Sony Vegas 8--64-bit Edition
This new version of Vegas (no ship date or price at press time) will take full advantage of 64-bit CPUs running 64-bit versions of Vista. This will speed up rendering, allow for more complex productions, enhance CPU performance, improve access to memory, increase editing flexibility, and leverage systems with up to 8TB of RAM. It will be available towards the end of this year or early next year. More details likely to come at IBC this summer (Sony introduced Vegas 7 at IBC last year).
SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 4.5 Network Edition ($299; free upgrade from SFP 4)
The new half-step upgrade to SmartSound’s popular Sonicfire Pro video soundtracking tool features Smart Recall, which allows you to bring in any WAV or AIFF file created with Sonicfire Pro 4.5 in its elemental form for further tweaking. The software’s Maestro tool now displays frames per beat to help with editing. The Network Edition includes the most interesting new features—it’s designed for post systems where you can have the music collection centrally located on a server. The Express Track feature found only in the Network Edition allows you to search for music by giving it parameters; will give you the desired length and a number of variations; and can represent a selected mood by using different instruments. I’m hoping these features will eventually show up in all editions of Sonicfire Pro.
Apple Final Cut Studio 2 ($1,299, $699 upgrade from FCP/$499 from FCS 1)
Apple’s new Final Cut Studio 2 suite, unveiled April 14 at NAB, includes Final Cut Pro 6, Motion 3, Soundtrack Pro 2, Compressor 3, DVD Studio Pro 4, and a new color-grading tool called Color. Those of you still editing on PowerPC G4 or G5 computers with a 1.25gHz CPU are in luck; Apple has chosen not to abandon you pre-Intel Mac users yet, so this upgrade will work for you. Color, derived from Final Touch technology Apple acquired from Silicon Color last November, is a new color-grading program for doing advanced color correction and color effects that you previously had to do on dedicated systems, usually at a post house. Soundtrack Pro 2 has added tools for creating professional surround sound and spectral analysis and editing—capabilities that were previously available in Adobe’s Audition but not in any Apple product. The new version of Compressor adds new streaming codec support and allows you to encode your production to a number of popular codecs and add logos and "bugs" without going back to FCP. By all appearances (and judging by the fact that Apple had nothing whatsoever to say about it in their Sunday press event at NAB), the version of DVD Studio Pro appears to be the same as the one included in the previous Final Cut Studio suite.
Sony CineAlta XDCAM EX Camcorder ($8,000)
This new offering from Sony looks to one-up Panasonic's HVX200, implementing three 1/2" CCDs in a handheld camcorder that records to solid-state memory, and carries Sony’s CineAlta badge. The solid-state cards will be a new format that looks like a cross between Memory Sticks on steroids and a fat tongue depressor. A 32GB card will purportedly hold two hours of HD video in Sony’s Long GOP MPEG-2 XDCAM codec. The price point is $8,000, and Sony predicts delivery towards the end of the year.
Panasonic AG-HSC1U AVCHD Camcorder ($2,099)
At first I had trouble convincing myself to even consider putting this on the list because of its "consumerish" nature, but the quality of the camera’s 1080i AVCHD footage was undeniable on a 50" plasma. Slightly bigger than a soda can, this 3CCD camera, the AG-HSC1U, certainly doesn’t offer all of the features you’d want to see in a pro camera (appropriately enough, since it’s produced by Panasonic’s consumer division). But it will make a great backup camera for those who can’t afford to pay $3,000–$5,000 or more for a backup or third HD/HDV camera or need an HD camera to use discreetly. Oddly there is no viewfinder, only a 3" LCD. It records onto SDHC (High Capacity SD cards). One 4GB card is included as well as a 40GB battery-operated standalone hard drive with SD card reader. The card reader copies the SD card to the hard drive, then you erase the card for more recording in the camera. On the 4GB card you can get 41 minutes in the HF (13Mbps) mode, 59 minutes in HN mode (9Mbps), and 88 minutes in HE mode (6Mbps). Unlike other consumer HD cameras, this one does have a 3.5mm microphone input. Not all NLEs can handle AVCHD now—Sony’s Vegas 7E is the first to support AVCHD—but most will with their upcoming updates.
Sony Full-Size HDV Camcorder (photo by Boyd Ostroff, DVInfo.net)
The much-discussed new full-size HDV camera from Sony was only a mock-up under glass at NAB 2007, but I was happy to see it all the same. At a Sony/Band Pro press event last December where Sony was showing off its top-of-the-line F23 CineAlta digital cinema camera, I asked why Sony had thought that the droves of people who bought their full-size DVCAM and DV cameras that would record three and sometimes 4.5 hours of footage would only need one hour when moving up to HDV. I suggested to Sony VP Bob Ott that the least they could do was put the optics and electronics of the V1 into the body of the DSR 250. Obviously, they were either listening to me then, got similar requests from other videographers, or were already thinking along those lines, because a full-size HDV model is on the way. During NAB, Sony had no specifics to report on the CMOS imager size. Due to the low-light issue with CMOS, we can hope to see at least 1/3" chips over the 1/4" ones they’ve used in previous CMOS-based HDV camcorders. I was assured that it is not simply a V1 in a shoulder-mount chassis. The new camera has a new design with the latest DSP technology. Another feature that will be nice for higher-end jobs is the HD-SDI out. This can be expected late 2007 or early 2008.
Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro ($349)
Blackmagic Design’s new Intensity Pro capture card adds analog I/O to the already-popular Intensity card, which boasts a single HDMI in and HDMI out. With the included On Air software, two Intensity family cards can send video out into one machine and can be live-switched and recorded uncompressed to disk. The cards work with Mac Pro (FCP) and PC (Premiere Pro, After Effects, and more).
Zaxwerks 3D Flag ($129)
Recently, I was pondering buying a collection of stock animated flags, just so I could use one or two in a project. With 3D Flag, you can easily make your own flag and even add realistic cloth textures and flag poles. Beyond flags, you can apply this to any still pictures and even video. 3D Flag is a much better deal than a collection of stock animated flags. This is a plug-in for Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Apple Motion 2. It will also be available for the upcoming release of FCP and Motion 3.
NewTek TriCaster Studio ($9,995)
The new TriCaster Studio, unveiled at NAB 2007, is the third and largest member of the TriCaster family of TV studios-in-a-box. Studio ads 16:9 support; six component, composite, or Y/C inputs; two DDRs; QuickTime, MPEG, and even PSP file support. It also does multi-camera live switching of virtual sets—wow!
Finally, we’ll touch on a few more products that are exciting or revolutionary, but don’t (yet) have mainstream use for event or corporate videographers, or for one reason or another don’t fit in the primary best-of-NAB list.
First is the Red Digital Cinema RED ONE Camera. If there was one booth to visit at NAB 2007, Red’s was it. There was a line with over an hour’s wait to get in to see the cameras and a 12-minute World War I action short shot on the Red by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. It was awesome. The cameras record up to 4K (37 GB/sec) images on onboard 320GB Red Drives. The basic camera-only package shipped in May for $17,500 without lens. A few years ago you couldn’t get a Betacam for that. What does this mean for event videographers? Competition for the big manufacturers means more choices for us, and odds are we’ll see the Big Four have to step up their games in response. What’s more, they are also developing what they call a "professional pocket cam" for the rest of us. No additional details on that one yet.
Panasonic also showed a mock-up of a "maybe we’ll make it" camcorder on the shelf next to the AG-HSC1U camcorder. It had the shoulder-mountable body of the AG-DVC7 with XLR inputs, and the record section of the AG-HSC1U with only one SD card slot. You’d think with that much space, they could squeeze in at least one more SD card slot, but not on the mock-up. If we all request it, maybe we’ll get that extra in the production model. There were no specs on optics or possible release date.
Zylight was also on hand with the Z90, an impressive LED on-camera light. The Z90 can switch between daylight and tungsten with the turn of a knob, and can do all the colors of the rainbow in "gel mode." The Z90 is also bluetooth-enabled, so if you want to coordinate light colors on multiple cameras when you change on one, they all change in sync. At $995, it’s a bit expensive for many event videographers, but it could have its uses for those who need such control.
Marc Franklin has been shooting video since 1982, and has run Franklin Video Productions since 1992. He has been featured in the Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and TV Technology; has written for WEVA; and has served as technical advisor for the 4EVER Group.